By Marcia Pilgeram
It’s hard to wrap my head around the past few months — silly me, thinking this COVID-19 pandemic that blew into our lives, wreaking havoc on a blustery day in early spring, would only be a fleeting inconvenience. Yet here we are, summer is a new season and, still, there is no end in sight to this insidiousness. Instead, we try to cope and carry on, gathering new family tales (to be embellished a bit, no doubt) before they’re passed down to future generations.
The travel business, along with the rest of the hospitality industry, has been hit hard — like a runaway train passing through hurricanes, fires and earthquakes. Heck, we could even throw a volcano or two into its path. Nearly every phone call or email that came my way in March and April was a trip cancellation. Now, a whole new round of these calls is coming — and it looks like we’ll be going nowhere, fast, for the remainder of 2020.
Even though I’ve lost more than 80% of my income for 2020 (and nearly as much sleep), there are many things I’ve learned to embrace in this masked world that is now mine.
I spent time in Chicago in May with toddler-grandson Sammy, teaching him how to crack an egg, grate Parmesan and lick the batter from a beater while we waited to welcome his baby sister, Runa, into the world.
Returning home from my epic road trip, I was able to stop at my son’s farm in eastern Montana, where daughter Ryanne and her family were also gathered. Alongside granddaughter Miley (my baking protégé), I offered advice as she crimped the crust on a tart, rhubarb pie. We bottle-fed calves, walked fence lines and gathered around a bonfire before bedtime. The next morning, I supervised as she whisked flour into a blonde roux for creamy gravy that we ladled over sausage patties and homemade biscuits — her dad’s favorite dish.
Filling hungry mouths along the way has become second nature to me. This peripatetic lifestyle suits me so well that I’m planning another Chicago road trip soon. In preparation, I still don’t venture far from my microbubble/pod, which can get a little bit lonesome; but, last week, I had a “family fix” provided by Ryanne and her family, who drove up from Moscow.
Our usual Sandpoint routine would include some beach time, sampling our merry way through the Saturday Farmer’s Market, a gelato stop at Cedar Street Bridge, followed soon thereafter by an ice cream stop at Panhandle Cone and Coffee, then taking turns choosing our favorite eateries for lunch and dinner.
My 10-year-old grandson, Will, is most like me. He loves to pop into every shop in town, he desperately misses hugs from friends and is always ready to whip up a themed dinner party on a moment’s notice (which might include costumes or formal dinner attire).
Since we couldn’t get far from “Camp Mimi,” we did lots of cooking at home, including a Thai dinner with an Asian tablescape created by Will. After the chopsticks were placed around the table, I sent Will and his younger sister, Fern, to pick cilantro, mint and bright little Johnny Jump-ups for our spring roll mix, which was deftly rolled by their older brother, Alden, and served alongside spicy curry and a pickled cucumber-ginger salad.
Man cannot live by curry alone, so after five years of idle conversations about hiking to Snow Creek Falls, we finally made our way there. It was a perfect day and an easy hike for everyone on well-groomed trails. We were rewarded with not one, but two beautiful waterfalls. Afterward, we found a mountain meadow and lingered over our picnic spread — all while keeping our eyes peeled for bears, as a nearby sign warned we should do.
With more time to do less, my family is creating a new normal that undeniably includes a slower pace and, though Will and I long for a larger pod, we know — for now — that we’ll embrace this time and space as necessary and special.
I long for and look forward to their visits that will always include helpers in my kitchen and fancy “cottontail” requests (we’ve never had the heart to correct Fern, so at my house, five o’clock libations will forever be known as cottontails). If kids in the kitchen seem daunting, start with easy tasks and simple recipes so everyone can offer a helping hand.
Besides being one of the most stellar volunteer trail groomers in Bonner County (along with her husband, Howard), my friend and BNE (best neighbor ever), Coni Shay, makes the most delicious granola in the world and, yes, we are a family of experts.
She shared her recipe with me many years ago and we’ve been making it ever since. My youngest, Casey, uses it as an ingredient in cookies and the grandkids love it on top of their breakfast parfaits. If you are a true granola fan — and have paid up to $15 for a pound at the market — you know it’s nearly worth its weight in gold.
So mask up and head to town for a few basic ingredients. Grab some bored kids to help mix it up and bake a batch for your “bubble.”
My only advice: Make lots (but don’t double this recipe, as the oats don’t get well coated). I usually make 2-3 separate batches and combine/store after it’s cooled. Yields 4 cups.
• 1 cup whole almonds, divided
• 3 cups old-fashioned oats
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/3 cup brown sugar
• 1/3 cup honey
• 3 tablespoons coconut oil
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a food processor or blender, pulse half of the almonds until they are very finely chopped. Pour them into a large bowl. Then chop the other half of the almonds coarsely and pour them into the same bowl.
Pour the oats, salt, and brown sugar into the bowl with the almonds and stir to combine.
In a small microwaveable bowl, combine honey and coconut oil, and heat for 40 seconds. Stir to dissolve the coconut oil, and add the vanilla and almond extract.
Pour the honey mixture over the oats and stir so that they are evenly coated.
Pour the oat mixture evenly onto a Silpat or parchment-lined baking sheet (helpful if it has sides).
Bake for 5 minutes, then stir and spread back to an even layer. Return to the oven for 5 more minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
Pour the granola onto a piece of wax paper to cool. Spread it out into a thin layer — about 1/2 inch thick.
After it cools completely, break the granola into clusters and store in an airtight container.
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